AFRL, Boeing, Thermwood Apply Large-Scale Additive Manufacturing to Autoclave Tools

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September 10, 2019 | Originally published by Date Line: September 10 on

The U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) Manufacturing and Industrial Technology Division (ManTech) is collaborating with Boeing and Indiana-based machinery manufacturer Thermwood to produce low-cost responsive tooling using additive manufacturing.

As part of AFRL’s Low-Cost Attributable Technology (LCAAT) program, the partners are leveraging Thermwood’s Large-Scale Additive Manufacturing (LSAM) machine to 3-D print autoclave tools for aerospace components. 

“Future fielded low cost, but capable UAVs will need a responsive materials and manufacturing processes strategy,” explained Craig Neslen, LCAAT Initiative Manufacturing Lead. “Additive manufactured composite tooling is one of many technologies being evaluated to ensure the industrial base can handle future manufacturing surge requirements as well as accommodate periodic system tech refresh activities which could necessitate minor vehicle design changes at an acceptable cost.”

The LCAAT program aims to break the cost growth curve and production time of new vehicular systems. Such systems are exposed to elevated pressure and temperatures and require an industrial autoclave to process and sterilize its parts and materials.